Appeal filed for lawsuit against Dining Dollars

Jennie Kushner

Although a Jefferson County judge dismissed three class action lawsuits regarding Dining Dollars’ mandatory food fees, the decision has been appealed.

Danny Evans, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of students in August 2010, said the Dining Dollars program coerces students into making a payment that constricts students’ free choice but rewards the University.

In December 2010 Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance dismissed the lawsuits, ruling that the University of Alabama, Auburn University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are immune since the mandatory food fees are part of the trustees’ authority under state law.

Vance also ruled the food fees are in the interest of improving the on-campus living experience.

Evans, of G. Daniel Evans law firm in Birmingham, said the notice of appeal was filed Feb. 9, and the Alabama State Supreme Court shows it docketed on Feb. 14.

Evans said now the case will be reviewed by the State Supreme Court and if the students win on appeal, the State Supreme Court will send the case back to Judge Vance with directions that the lawsuit is allowed to continue.

Evans said he appealed the case because he feels Dining Dollars is unfair to students.

“I think Judge Vance’s order is wrong,” Evans said. “I think Dining Dollars is oppressive to the students.”

Evans said he has asked the State Supreme Court to review Vance’s original finding that the Board of Trustees and Aramark were immune.

“[Judge Vance] said both the Board of Trustees and Aramark were immune [from lawsuits],” Evans said. “Regardless of what the facts were, Judge Vance found both to be immune.

“He never ruled that the facts we alleged were not true, just that it didn’t matter because they were immune regardless.”

“We have asked the Supreme Court to review that finding,” he said.

Evans said he also feels if the Dining Dollars requirement is eliminated, local businesses will see an increase in profit.

Crimson Café owner Rhett Madden said he has been fighting Dining Dollars since 1996.

Madden said Aramark’s 21 percent sales profit is putting the café on The Strip out of business.

“If [the lawsuit] results in Dining Dollars being reformed or eliminated, we may be able to recoup some of the losses we have suffered since the hike to 21 percent in 2008,” he said. “The only thing keeping our doors open is taking on debt.”

Madden said if the students win the lawsuit, he feels the victory will save local businesses.

“If they win the Dining Dollars suit, [Dining Dollars] will most likely have to be reformed someway or eliminated, which is of course good for us and all restaurants near campus,” Madden said.

“If they lose, UA administrators can continue to do whatever they want, and we and other restaurants will be put out of business,” he said. “They will definitely be a monarchy.”

Evans said in an e-mailed statement on Feb. 4 that he read the CW article, “Costs keep Fresh Food closed on weekends,” and anticipated the increase in pricing of food court meals.

“These are things we saw coming as the result of the Dining Dollar imposed monopoly we are challenging,” he said.

“Any time exclusive control is given to one company as has been given to Aramark by the University, Aramark is then free to set hours of operation, prices and selection as best suits Aramark’s profit motive, because the students have no other option and no leverage,” Evans said.

Despite litigation, Gabriell Davis, a senior biology major, doesn’t mind paying the $300 mandatory fee per semester.

“I don’t mind Dining Dollars because whatever you don’t use gets transferred to Bama Cash and it can be used all around town,” she said.

Blake Cantrell, a junior business major, wishes he had a choice in the matter.

“I don’t like Buffalo Phil’s, or Crimson Café, or any of the dining halls,” he said. “Why should I be forced to pay for food that I find overpriced and undercooked?”